Common Music 3: Remix drum loops with Scheme

Working though porting some old instruments which generated Csound scores from Common Music 1 to Common Music 3. This example illustrates a few techniques I used in my piece Anxious from 1999. I kept myself to a few drum sounds, primary this loop, which comes from a Jimmy Smith tune originally, but was known to me through Professor Booty.

Grab the loop – jam.aif

Grab the .orc

Grab the .scm file

Here’s the CM code:

; 14 segments for jam.aif
(define idxdur '((0.018 q) (.697 q) (1.376 s) (1.538 e)(1.869 s)(2.032 s)(2.2 e)
    (2.543 s)(2.705 q)(3.373 e.)(3.895 e)(4.232 q)(4.894 e)(5.236 s)))

; given the dur of a quarter, return tempo
(define (quarterDur->tempo quarterdur)
  (* 60 (/ 1.0 quarterdur)) 

; remix - based on idxdur, remix sections of jam.aif loop
; args: 
; - tem: tempo (should be a float)
; - pan: angle to pan signal (between 0 and 90)
; - amp: attenuate signal (between 0.0 and 1.0)
; - totaldur: process continues until totaldur is exceeded
(define (remix tem pan amp totaldur)
  (let* (
   (iter (make-cycle (list 
    (make-cycle '(5 6 7 8))
    (make-cycle '(5 6 7 8))
    (make-heap '(0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 ))
    (make-heap '(5 6 7 8))
   (origtem (quarterDur->tempo (- .697 .018)))
  (process with curtime = 0
             for t = (elapsed #t) ; get true score time
             for i = (next iter)
             for dist = 5
             for pct = .025
             for idx = (nth idxdur i)
             for indx = (nth idx 0) 
             for origdur = (rhythm (nth idx 1) origtem)
             for endx = (+ indx origdur)
             for r = (rhythm (nth idx 1) tem)
             for d = (rhythm r tem)
             for p = (/  tem origtem)
; faster tempo, the quieter
            for a = (+ .5 (- amp (/ tem 210.0)))
            until (> curtime totaldur)
            (cs:i 3 t d a p pan dist pct indx)
            (set! curtime t)
            (wait r)
; make-reverb-note
;   Turn instrument on for duration of score
(define (make-reverb-note dur)
  (process repeat 1 do
  (cs:i 99 0.0 dur 5))
; A verbose way to sprout this process at multiple tempos.
; The result is a Nancarrow-esque tempo canon
(sprout (list 
    (remix 100.0 10 1.0 30) 
    (remix 110.0 30 1.0 30) 
    (remix 120.0 60 1.0 30) 
    (remix 130.0 80 1.0 30) 
    (remix 140.0 10 1.0 30) 
    (remix 150.0 30 1.0 30) 
    (remix 160.0 60 1.0 30) 
    (remix 170.0 80 1.0 30) 
    (remix 180.0 10 1.0 30) 
    (remix 190.0 30 1.0 30) 
    (remix 200.0 60 1.0 30) 
    ) "remix.sco" :play #t :orchestra "sndwarp.orc" :header "f1 0 262144 1 \"jam.aif\" 0  0 0\nf2 0 16384 9 .5 1 0

; A cleaner, less verbose way to generate the same
(define mixes '())

(loop for i from 100.0 to 200.0 by 10.0
    (set! mixes (append mixes (list (remix i 45 1.0 60))))

(sprout mixes "remix.sco" :play #t :orchestra "sndwarp.orc" :header "f1 0 262144 1 \"jam.aif\" 0  0 0\nf2 0 16384 9 .5 1 0

; a single instance of remix, with reverb note
(sprout (list (remix 100.0 10 1.0 30) (make-reverb-note 40)) "remix.sco" :play #t :orchestra "sndwarp.orc" :header "f1 0 262144 1 \"jam.aif\" 0  0 0\nf2 0 16384 9 .5 1 0

Common Music + Grace – Undead algorithms alive again

I’ve been getting reacquainted with Common Music and Grace for the past few weeks, looking at old pieces I create in CM 1.4 and porting them as I go to CM 3.9. I’ll be keeping some notes here which may morph into posts on a separate blog/forum/site dedicated to CM.

For now, here are the relevant online resources I’ve been able to identify:

Specific to Common Music:

Main Common Music page

Common Music Dictionary 

The CM Dist Mailing List

Taube’s Notes from the MetaLevel is best acquired through Amazon AFAIK

Csound Journal article on CM/Grace

For oldtimers like me, the pre-2002 cmdist archives can be useful

Grace builds are archived here. I had a problem with the latest Mac build available through the App Store, but found a working package here.

Scheme and other relevant resources: – hub of the online Scheme community. CM is an extension of Scheme, which in turn is a dialect of Lisp.

One python programmer’s notes on learning scheme. He’s a good writer so it’s a fun read.

Main S7 page – S7 is an extension of Scheme which CM leverages.

Two free books! The Scheme Programming Language and Practical Common Lisp

Realtime Csound from Grace using OSC routing


While working with Grace’s Csound rendering recently, things got a little bogged down as I tried to access the same score file from multiple processes. Here’s a post I made to the CM list a little while back, which sums up my problem:

I’m stuck with a problem trying to sprout processes and work with Csound. I’m trying to do something more complex with a piece I’m working on, but
managed to boil down the problem I’m having by using the Csound Scheme example. If you take a look at that example, you’ll see a function called ransco:

    (define (ransco len rhy lb ub amp)
      (let ((dur (* rhy 2)))
        (process repeat len
                 for t = (elapsed #t) ; get true score time
                 for k = lb then (between lb ub)
                 (cs:i 1 t dur k amp)
                 (wait rhy))))

A bit further down in the example, there’s some instruction on sprouting this bit multiple times, using :write #f to ‘collect’ the events generated into one score:

    ; This will generate a score without writing an audio file. execute
    ; the expression several times and use the Audio>Csound>Export... item
    ; to export all the score data in various formats

    (sprout (ransco 10 .2 60 72 1000) "test.sco" :write #f)

I was assuming I’d be able to do this same thing from a process, but I’m getting an error that Grace is unable to get a file handle to “test.sco”. Here’s the function:

    (define (f1)
      (process repeat 3
      (sprout (ransco 10 .2 60 72 1000) "test.sco" :write #f)
      (wait 1)))

…and I try to execute it like so:

    (sprout (f1))

Instead of trying to bend CM to my will, I decided to use OSC to fire Csound events in realtime. This has been pretty successful so far, so I’m posting my ‘OSC Router’ Csound score and example Scheme file for others to use.


The .csd is here 

Sample scheme file is here

Scheme file

My .scm file is pretty verbose for this illustration, but I figured more is more right? :) At line 2, I open up an osc listener:

(osc:open 7779 7825)

I’m not receiving anything incoming, but not the outbound port 7825 – you’ll see that again in the .csd file. The lion’s share of the file is 4 nearly-identical functions which generate separate lines, ultimately to be played by guitar quartet. Instead of the familiar call to cs:i, we use osc:message:

(osc:message "/router" 1 t dur amp pitch pan dist pct )

Essentially routing p-fields of a score event to outbound port 7825.

At this point, we can just sprout a list of calls like I do at lines 128-134:

(sprout (list 
         (quartetlet-1 10 300 (make-heap '(gs4 b4 a4 fs4)))
         (quartetlet-2 30 300 (make-heap '(gs4 b4 a4 fs4)))
         (quartetlet-3 60 300 (make-heap '(e5 fs5)))
         (quartetlet-4 45 300 (make-heap '(fs3)))

…but I wanted to sprout them within a process, along rhythmic lines. Hence the function beginning at line 136:

(define (launch num)
  (let*  (
   (rhythms (make-cycle '(w w+h w+w w+w+w)))
           for r = (rhythm (next rhythms) 72)
           for iternum from 0 to num
           (set! iternum (+ iternum 1))
           (sprout (list 
            (quartetlet-1 10 5 (make-heap '(gs4 b4 a4 fs4)))
            (quartetlet-2 30 5 (make-heap '(gs4 b4 a4 fs4)))
            (quartetlet-3 60 5 (make-heap '(e5 fs5)))
            (quartetlet-4 45 5 (make-heap '(fs3)))
           (wait r)

Launch like so:

(sprout (launch 50))

You’ll hear bursts of quartet material initiated according to the rhythm generated by

(rhythms (make-cycle '(w w+h w+w w+w+w)))

which generates a 5-second burst of quartet material for each rhythm generated. Here’s a sample (player at top)

Osc Router 

Let’s look at the csd, which routes incoming OSC data from Grace. At line 10, we open up an osc listener on line 10:

gihandle OSCinit 7825

Instr 1 uses the pluck ugen with the familiar parameters for duration, amplitude and pitch, along with parameters to locate the note in stereo space using locsig/locsend. Instr 99 provides reverb (actually not used here..).. Instr 1000 is the relevant instrument here:

instr   1000
kinst init 0
kstart init 0
kdur init 0
kamp init 0
kpitch init 0
kpan init 0
kdist init 0
kpct init 0
kwhen init 0

    kk  OSClisten gihandle, "/router", "ifffffff", kinst, kstart, kdur, kamp, kpitch, kpan, kdist, kpct
    if (kk == 0) goto exit
    schedkwhen kk, -1, -1, kinst, kwhen, kdur, kamp, kpitch, kpan, kdist, kpct
    kgoto nxtmsg

I init k-rate variables to hold incoming p-fields, and fill them with incoming data via OSClisten. If I get an osc message (signalled with kk, the trigger from OSClisten), I use schedwhen to fire an event to the intended instrument.

On my macbook, I run the csd with the following params:

csound -odac1 -+rtaudio=CoreAudio -Q0 -B512 -b64 osc_router.csd


The Common Music family of releases has shaped my music making, and getting back up to speed with the latest from Rick Taube, Bill Schottstaedt + co. at CCRMA has been rewarding. These projects (Common Music 1, 2 and 3.x, Grace, CLM, Snd) have little in terms of PR out there, but deserve more airtime out there IMHO. I hope that this examples serves to steer others in productive directions. More soon!

Once again, the links:

The .csd is here 

Sample scheme file is here

My Sound: June 2015: Collages + Edits

When I was little, my folks were cool enough to give me a record player and a bunch of random records. These would prove to be formative, just like everything else I heard – themes to tv shows, cartoon music, anything on the radio. I listened to everything with equal interest, but tried to manipulate the picture as soon as I found some way to interfere.

My folks had an 8-track player. I’d pull the cartridge in and out, trying to match the ‘weeerp’ you’d get when you plugged it back in with the beat on the record. I loved Blue Rondo ala Turk by Dave Brubeck, but liked it even better when I could spin the record backwards and control the speed with my fingers. As soon as I got ahold of 2 tape decks, I’d make my own jacked-up radio plays, interspersing wrong-speed variations on TV commercials I’d recorded with weird dialog my friends and I would make up. These recordings are sadly lost – sad for me, anyway.

I started making tape-pause collages back then too. Grab a blank tape, and record tiny bits and pieces of songs, editing the song(s) together on the fly. You have to remember what all you’ve recorded if you want any continuity, but that’s not always the case: sometimes it’s a game of exquisite corpse. I’d forgotten about this until the mid 90s, when the internet brought me John Oswald’s Mystery Tapes. I really dug these, and loved them for their composition-by-deletion economy which generated new sounds.

So this is a collection of pieces I constructed, rather than played, and might be the most out-there of these comps, so far. I don’t know – let me know. Here’s the rundown:

Soul Gold (2007)
Brother Reed O’Berne brought me a short film to score, a little piece my brother had shot (if I remember correctly). Timing the edits in the audio to those in the film yielded new rhythms and ideas.

Shimmer (1995)
The Yamaha MT-120 4-track dominated all of my time for a while, and I experimented like crazy. This is my attempt to distill what, at the time, were 2 of my favorite pieces of music: Pithoprakta and Metastasis by Xenakis. These textures would alternately alienate or envelope whoever I played them for. Here’s a condensed version of what I liked 20 years ago, coupled with my attempt to compliment said textures with my geeeetar.

Tape pause on FM. Listener’s guide: listen for the new melodies and beats that happen accidentally.

You Need Something (2006)
Ryan Dignan and I were collaborating on sounds for Megan Griffith’s First Aid for Choking, this being one we recorded but did nothing with. The woman speaking through the shortwave is a nun recounting a particularly stressful trip to Miami, wherein the stewardess tries to calm her with alcohol. “You.. need… something…”. The percussion is an exercise Ryan created for his elementary school class using a tupperware cup or yogurt container…

Ambient for Piano (1999), Ambient for Viola and Guitar (2014)
I used to have this great schedule: “4 10s”: 4 ten hour days, with Fridays off. I’d sit in front of the piano 9-5, recording any keepers I stumbled into. The cover of the March edition was taken during this time.
This weird line, somewhat tied to serialism, was in an old notebook, one I found sometime in the “4-10s” period, and I made a little piano piece out of it. My friend Barret Anspach and I (we may get that trio going yet!) recorded a variant at our practice space, applying a few more rules to the composition, creating the phasing you hear here.

Blueberry (2006)
In this bit from William Weiss’ Emergency Pants collection, we hear the protagonist’s attention drift while he does the laundry, fantasizing he is winning a blueberry pie.

Shopping Thang
Tape pause on AM, in AZ. Listener’s guide: Ignore the clicks, listen to the bass, kick and snare in this one. This is what happens when I wait in the car while someone runs into the store ‘real quick’.

Travels of the Fetus (1996)
Matt and I make this collage of tape, Native American flute and gtr one night in Lake City. It reminds us of the womb so much, we name it this.

Double Yesterday
Tape Pause on FM. There’s something about FM radio transmitting 80s buttrock that just.. has it’s own flavor. Listener’s Guide: Follow the guitar, at least in the beginning.

Adrift (1998)
Depicting the freezing landscape of Chelyabinsk, Siberia, Russia in 1998. I lived there for two months. Csound, Shortwave, stretched bird song.

Tape pause on FM. Listener’s guide: I think the flutes work with the choral stuff..

My Sound: March 2015


Tracks 1-5: From Shag Carpet Sunset (2002)

I think at some point we thought we’d be halfway between the McKenzie brothers and the Cohen brothers. This was the first big move by my filmmaking brother Andy and a prolific time for me. These tracks were produced with the help of my brethren Ian Rashkin (engineering advice and I think bass), Josh Stewart (trumpet) and especially Neil Wilson (all drums), who let me use his basement studio for this whole soundtrack. Country Session Man and sometimes IT guy Forrest Lee Jr played the steel guitar on Track 1, the opening theme to the film. Looks like Forrest has some cds up on cdbaby here.He’s an amazing player. Track 3 is a four track recording from 1993 that Andy ended up wanting to use, to my amazement.  Tracks 4 and 5 were my first recordings on a computer – Andy sings lead through our upstairs telephone on Love is a Rocket, and Almost Home was recorded on my cousin Mike’s mac while I housesat for them.

DVD here at Amazon.

Track 6 – 9: Game stuff

Some random bits I did for video games never released. Inspired, in order, by China Radio International, Jimpster, Phleg Camp and.. whammy bars.

Track 10: Gtr Trio 1998:

Still studying composition at the UW, I wrote a collage of guitar ideas for 3 steel string acoustics. Friends Don Craig and Pete Matern helped me get through this clumsy little set – I pulled the couple of ideas I think work together here in this excerpt.

Track 11-14: The squid that lives…

At one point there was a rumor of a giant squid living in Puget Sound. I think of him/her (them?) when I hear this now. One of many bits that didn’t make it on Alkaline, I did this after hours of practice around playing slide, ebow, and thumb on my bottom strings simultaneously.  Recorded on the back patio of my mother-in-laws in Mesa, AZ, while everyone slept Christmas Eve, 2003.

Track 15: Sleestax

Tried and tried to get Andy to use this for something, but he never did. 4 tracks recorded with my neighbor Todd’s Bass Guitar Synthesizer, which I still covet.

Track 16: Shiny Clean Vocal

The last bit of Shag stuff, this is my vocal demo of the theme.

Gamma Male: Ice, Whole

My longtime partner-in-crime Matt Wainwright and I have been recording long Herzogian explorations for the past year or two under the name Gamma Male, the latest in a lineage of projects that started in high school with Human Lunchbox, followed by Choco D, Secret Kitty, Underwater Bus Enforcers, and lately KLOD. We’ve been sitting on this set for quite a while, but it’s one I’m particularly proud of. Fans of Popol Vuh, The Residents Eskimo and the early, non-cheesy Tangerine Dream stuff will like this.

My Sounds: February 2015

In 2005 filmmaker Patricia O’Brien told me about a documentary she was shooting on the Duwamish River. This waterway had gone from sacred site to shipping superhighway, and was polluted to the point of being declared a Superfund site by the Clinton Administration. Georgetown residents and tribal elders shared oral histories in the clips I saw. I brought my friends Tom Swafford and Robert Walker to Jack Straw for a day (or two?) of lightly-guided improv, and got come beautiful dark sounds. The doc was aborted before it was finished, so these tracks gathered a bit of dust. Here they are for posterity, along with some sound design, found sounds, and an early (1994) attempt to mimic a recording I’d made from a shortwave broadcast of All India Radio.

My Sound: January 2015

So I’ve been reading these books by Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard called My Struggle, where he fills out details of memories to make a sort of embellished autobiographical picture of his life. Not quite non-fiction, it takes a shape of it’s own, pulling you into a part of his life and seeing yourself there. Episodes combine to form a very lucid portrait of the artist.

I’ve been obsessively collecting sounds for as long as I’ve been able, but they’re sitting in boxes and on hard drives, gathering dust. What’s worse: I’m constantly adding to this pile and not making art of out it. So here we go: the first installment of my monthly sound journal. This first issue is all about soundtrack music I’ve written, with some drafts that stayed in the notebook along the way.

My hope is that as I pool these sounds into cohesive packages, a broader narrative arises that will sound like me. Let’s see if it works.

My Sound: January 2015

  1. Moon
  2. Planets

From Circadia Sees the Moon (2005)

In 2005, Dave Hanagan asked me to make some music for his short Circadia Sees the Moon. In this beautiful little film, a young woman is kept from seeing the moon and, it seems, her adulthood. I tried to give childlike quality to the surface but rhythmic chaos underneath. I had just been seduced by the first three records by The Books, and had some of this in mind while building these sounds with Csound and my guitar. The Books taught me to trim the attack off of the note, which was extremely liberating. I began to find all these new ideas in sounds I already had. The film features a repeated shot of the moon, which I supported with this stretched high slide guitar sound you hear here, and later on this disc.

  1. VCS3 Taste
    Sometime in 2004 I wrote a program to impersonate the EMS VCS3, a synth I’d heard on lots of recordings, including Dark Side of the Moon. The sound was sweet and thick, like pork fat. I loved the sound and spent a week or so hacking this instrument together that would eventually be the backbone for my synth weirdness band Wizard Prison. This is the 1st improv I recorded with my new toy I made. The pulses transfixed us. At the end you hear what we in WP called the ‘Party’s Over’ sound, which Scott and I would use to signal it was ready to move on to the next idea.

  2. Highway 99

  3. Park Music
  4. Lego Music
  5. Proto Stay Love
  6. These are Circles
  7. Bizzy Bizzy

Inspired by Raymond Scott, from Urban Scarecrow (2002-2006)

I had heard Raymond Scott’s music in cartoons growing up, but hadn’t heard his groundbreaking electronic music work until the Manhattan Research Inc compilation Basta released in the early 2000s. Like some classic mad scientist, Scott built oscillators and mechanic sequencers from scratch, designing everything along the way.
I pictured RS’s circular sequencers rotating to create loops of sound and wrote these pieces, under the influence of Soothing Sounds for Baby and the occasional scotch. Most of these were created for my brother’s beautiful film Urban Scarecrow. The first three made it in (I think) but the final three I used for other things…

  1. Ascending
  2. Backwards
  3. Broken Waltz
  4. Cherry Blossoms

From The Emergency Pants Collection (2004)

Using the computer and my programming skills for so much music made part of me rebel and crave organics. I set a challenge for myself: create pieces solely with my 4 track, the crappiest guitar pedal I had, and my piano. Brandon Schaeffer liked them and used them in his impossible-to-find Emergency Pants collection of films – maybe he will let me post them on Vimeo? The ring modulator you hear on Broken Waltz is the only reason I keep that pedal around.

  1. Short Waves (2008)

I am addicted to collecting sounds, and for long binges during the winter I will sit in our shed, long into the night, trawling the air for new sound on my shortwave set. I made this out of three recordings. First, the pulsing time signal you can pick up anywhere in the world on 5000Hz, 10000Hz, 15000Hz, you get the idea. Second, a brief digital signal coming from a buoy in our Puget Sound. Third, a distant voice speaking Arabic.

  1. Anxious (1998)

One of the first pieces of sound art I was actually proud of. I made this while in the composition program at the University of Washington, studying with Richard Karpen. My head was full, one part Squarepusher, one part Iannis Xenakis. I’m not sure this has much to do with either.
One loop is used throughout – you can hear it, unedited, in the first full bar of 4 in the piece. Xenakis created Concrete PH from a single recording of charcoal burning. With him in mind, I wanted to create as much as I could from this single loop. You’ll hear glitchy tweaker beats, a Nancarrow-style tempo canon, and Noh Theater-inspired spatial minimalism.

  1. End Credits

From Circadia, a reverse overture that crams all of the elements from the soundtrack into a final pulsing climax. The visuals involve crosscuts of a train crashing through a wall and the moon breaking through the clouds, which I try to reflect.

Medicine Hat: Tri-Cities, 1994

I was guitarist for Medicine Hat, a Seattle rock band active in the 1990s during Seattle’s grungy mcGrunge period. Yuck I’ve always hated that word. Anyways – this is a little reflection on an awesome couple of years playing with my best friends.

Over the spring of ’93, our drummer and bass player convert a derelict moving truck into a tour van that sleeps 6, and things feel official. It’s the beginning of summer and we’re over the mountains, heading east to do another mini tour of the state: Yakima, Tri-cities, Spokane, maybe Boise. This time we’re in a van all our own, just like Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu, the Police, etc. We’ll never have to borrow my parent’s station wagon again.

Flying east on 90 to the Tri-cities, we are headed for the Hoedown, which at the time brings to mind the music of Mule, Phleg Camp, and other noise-minded twangpunk bands we were listening to at the time. “We” meaning everyone but our singer Sean, who would recoil in horror at the first sign of Phleg Camp. Hoedown means country to us, and we’re not sure whether we’ll be welcomed by kids or a rain of beer bottles like in the Blues Brothers.

Anyone from Washington will tell you it’s two states for two reasons. There’s the Red and the Blue, divided by ideology and politics, and the wet and the dry, divided by the Cascades. We leave the Seattle cloud cover ceiling, cross Snoqualmie and hit glorious sun. We’d played with Tri-Cities superstars Small a few times so we’re probably playing their tape with ‘Legalize It’. It’ll be a flat few hours’ drive to the southeast corner.

We pull into the club and it’s hot. 90s and dry. Unload and grab food. I nerd out reading Carlos Castenada in our van for maybe 30 minutes, and emerge to see two parking lots full of people and cars, sneaking beers and joints. A cop hangs nearby.

I split a bottle of cheap wine with a few folks who drove from Seattle to see us. I walk in to play and my clothes are immediately soaked with sweat. I’m dropping my fogged up guitar but manage to put it on. I’m 6 feet tall and clumsy, and I’ve got maybe 6 inches of headroom until I hit ceiling. Not so bad, perhaps, because it’s carpeted, though craft-minded instrumentalists have woven coiled bits of broken guitar string everywhere. I’ve also got hair down to my ass at this point in life, and by end of set “rocking out” has tangled me in the carpeted-ceiling-string mess. We have to cut a chunk of my hair off to liberate me from the stage.

Next up is Tchkung: the unique and awesome. Multiple drummers wrapped bass and maybe guitar in tribal calls to action, always pro-earth.

DUNga DUNga dun DUN.
DUNga DUNga dun DUN.
WE SPIKE! was my favorite. An expanded show awaited hungry anarchists this time, as there was a firebreather joining in. In a small sweaty club with very low ceilings.

I pull my stuff out to our van and load back up, sit inside for a moment, take some more wine and listen to the Tchkungdrums through the van wall. There is a break in the sound. Power outage? A lengthy enviro-sermon from the stage? The parking lot is full again with people and the cops have brought reinforcements. The fire breath had caught the ceiling carpet on fire and the show was over. Or paused – I can’t remember. You see, I read too much and often miss out on things like this.


Later that year, we’re invited to play with Treepeople and Engine Kid down in the Tri-cities. Treepeople are too big for Hoedowns, so we’re rocking a giant tent in a dormant state fairgrounds. We’ve got company this time in Jeff the photographer, Dave Lights, and a gorgeous woman named Runhilde, who will later turn up as vocal gymnast lead singer of Thorr’s Hammer with one of the Engine Kid (and later Sunn O))) fellas.

We’ve got a full house to play to, but my amp dies. After scouring the Tri-cities area for tubes, I return empty-handed. Treepeople let me play through their Treeamp though so all’s well. There’s a healthy crowd for us, which is lucky – we are the opener, and they like us.

The Engine Kid hits the stage next, a trio. They quietly sing through the first verse of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High, and we have to stop talking to hear the singer in this boomy space. “…never saw an eagle flyyyyyy, rocky mountain….. BBBAAAAMMMMMMMMM.” The wall of sound that accompanies the chorus on ‘High’ melts our faces off. Cool. No wonder we were the openers. Treepeople ruled, but Engine Kid stuck with me.

Being an all ages show, we had some super drunk kids on our hands at the end. Drummer Jason, ever the pure soul, opted to drive em home on our way out of town. In school he’d written a paper on the ‘evils of alcohol’, cinched tight with the closing line “our children are being herded into an alcohol ranch of no return”. He hits every kid with this line as we drive them, one-by-one, home to their parents.

Medicine Hat – I AM from listen faster on Vimeo.

Meditating / Little Gremlins

I practice meditation by sitting down and shutting up for 10-20 minutes a day. I practice guitar an hour a day. I practice running for about 1-2 hours, at least 3-4 times per week. I visit similar headspace with each activity, and each sympathizes with my music practice.

In my music practice, I always start out with some itenirary in mind. Warmups for 1/2 hour, scale drills for 1/2 hour, harmony for 1/2 hour, then work on a specific piece. Very often, though, I feel a pull to ‘zoom in’ on one particular area, one very specific little aspect of what I’m working on. Usually it’s a rough section of a piece I’m working on, and I turn it into an exercise. It feels like identifying a little rough spot on my musical surface that needs sanding – repeating the thing slowly and methodically makes me comfortable after a while, with speed and facility not for behind. It feels like some combination of play and meditation.

I first about someone else adopting a similar thought-process in John Stropes article on Michael Hedges’ Ragamuffin.

When practicing these opening two bars, you encounter a series of challenges. Here are the two bars, followed by a correlating bit from Stropes’ essay:

First two bars of Ragamuffin by Michael Hedges.

Clip from Stropes' article

Maybe it seems obvious, but if you’ve ever practiced this tune, you know that this piece contains a series of brain teasers, brain teasers for your muscle memory – if that makes sense. Whether you’re a fingerstyle diehard or not, I suggest checking Stropes’ book out.

One goal of this blog is to share my thoughts around music, and this reductive practice is key for me. It’s key for me personally, in developing my ability like I just said, but also key in my composing. For some reason, with me, I am repetitive in practice but avoiding outright repetition in my music. More on that another time!

Seattle-based musician and programmer